Iran appeals for release of US$5bn loan to combat COVID-19 pandemic


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran appealed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Wednesday to approve a US$5 billion emergency loan request to combat the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country, that has so far killed 4,000 people.

The Central Bank of Iran made the request last month from the IMF’s Rapid Financing Initiative, an emergency programme set up to help countries faced with sudden shocks such as natural disasters.

The United States reportedly opposes the loan, with officials saying Iran has sufficient funds at its disposal.

“I urge all international organisations to fulfill their duties,” Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting.

The IMF has said it is in talks with officials in Iran to determine its eligibility for the loan.

However, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the US – the IMF’s largest shareholder – planned to block the request.

It cited senior Trump administration officials as saying that Iran’s government had billions of dollars in bank accounts still at its disposal and that the loan might be used to help its economy rather than on combating COVID-19 or fund terrorist operations.

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, President Rouhani said Iran expected international organisations to “act on their legally binding duties” at a time of crisis.

“We are a member of the International Monetary Fund,” he said in televised remarks. “We made a request for loan from them and if they exercise discrimination between Iran and other countries, it is clear that neither we, nor global public opinion will tolerate that,” he added.

Mr. Rouhani also reiterated that the US sanctions on Iran’s economy is restricting its ability to obtain the supplies it needed to combat COVID-19.

President Donald Trump reinstated the US sanctions in 2018 in an attempt to force Iran’s leaders to renegotiate a nuclear deal with world powers, but they have so far refused.

Iran has been the worst country in the Middle East to be hit by COVID-19 virus, which has infected more than 1.4 million worldwide and claimed 82,000 lives.

On Wednesday, Iran’s health ministry reported the number of people who had tested positive in the country had increased by 1,997 to 67,286, and the death toll had risen by 121 and now stood at 4,003.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on the US to stop preventing Iran selling its oil.

The Trump administration has denied that the sanctions are preventing aid from getting to Iran, saying the US maintains authorisations that allow for the sale of food, agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices.

It has also noted that Iran refused a US offer of humanitarian assistance and medical supplies. (Source: BBC)